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Search engine optimization > keyword selection

November 29, 2003

Educational content (practical legal information of help to your audience) and promotional content (information about your your practice, philosophy and credentials) is a must for your site. The content will determine whether a potential client hires you. In addition, your Web site’s content determines how well you do in search engine rankings. The words and phrases in your content should be chosen carefully to maximize your exposure in search engine results.

When researching and choosing keywords and key phrases for the content of your Web site, it is important to understand the part they play in search engine optimization. A search engine is introducing you to prospective clients. The keywords or phrases an Internet user enters as a part of his or her query begins this process. Matching these keywords to the words that appear on your Web site is the first step in a potential visit to your site. If your Web site’s content does not include the words a user enters in his or her query, your site will not show up in the search engine results.

Keyword Placement

The two most important places on your Web site to have keywords or key phrases are: 1) in the title tags invisible to site users located at the top of a Web page (<title> title tag text </title>)and 2) in the text that is visible on the page between the body tags (<body> body content text </body>).

Within the educational and promotional content on your site, you will have plenty of opportunity to place keywords and key phrases. You should have detailed ‘consumer friendly’ legal information for the area of law you practice. This information will be on separate pages of your site with each page providing an opportunity to use keywords in the title and in the body. For example if you pactice family law you may have separate educational pieces on different Web pages covering jurisdiction, custody, support and visitation. You would want to take advantage of the keywords in the title tags so that the title is not the same “Law firm of Smith Jones etc.” Preferably you would want to have “Vermont child custody by Smith Jones, Vermont divorce lawyers” as a title on a Web page on which you are providing the law and your experiences on custody.

In the body of educational content there should be little problem using keywords and phrases if you have done a nice job covering the issue. Going back to our example, keywords such as divorce, child custody, lawyer, children, parents, Vermont, family law.

It’s also a good idea to put on eacg page with the educational information a byline with your firm name, a tag line describing your practice, location and contact information. That way those words will be on every page no matter what other content you include.

In the promotional content you will have multiple pages providing detailed information overview about your law firm, its location, industries and people represented, practice areas, lawyers, media coverage and its history. You should have separate Web pages for each practice area, lawyer, industry etc. The text in the title tags and in the body of the page should be modified accordingly. Again you do not want all pages to read “Smith Jones lawyers” in the title. Why not “Media coverage of Smith Jones, Vermont divorce lawyers?”

Keyword placement is discussed further on my Site Layout page.

Researching Keywords and Phrases for Your Web Site

Choosing the best keywords and phrases to include on Web pages begins with careful and considered research of the information-seeking behavior of someone looking for legal services.

Consider your audience

To attract non-lawyers to your Web site, you should include words or phrases that your clients and other laypeople, without specialized knowledge of a particular practice area or topic, would use in their search query to find your site.

Lawyers who understand terms of art associated with different practice areas may use different words (than would non-lawyers) when they perform Internet searches, even when they are looking for the same thing. If one of your goals is to attract other lawyers or legal professionals to your site, you must consider including content containing keywords and phrases they would use on your site.

Locality Keywords – City, County and State

If your practice is limited to a certain locality, it is important that the cities, towns and counties in which you practice are mentioned as keywords on your site.

In general, you should include the state, metropolitan area, cities, and counties you serve within your Web pages. For example, if you work in Ann Arbor, Michigan but have clients from Dexter, Saline and Ypsilanti, Michigan, you should reference those cities somewhere in the content of your site. You could describe your firm as, “A Personal Injury Law Firm, serving Washtenaw County, Michigan, including Ann Arbor, Dexter, Saline and Ypsilanti.”

It is also advisable to include the area code(s) of your local phone service, as well as the zip code of your office(s), on your Web pages. Again this can be done simply by including your address and telephone number in a “Contact” area on your Web pages, or on a specific “Contact Us” page. This is helpful in terms of your search engine ranking because people sometimes include area code or zip code numbers for their location when searching for services on the Internet.

Practice Area Keywords and Phrases

It is important to have your practice areas, and words associated with those practice areas, on your Web pages. For example, if you are a personal injury lawyer, you should include the words “personal injury,” as well as words and phrases describing the types of cases you handle, such as “automobile accident,” “dog bite,” and “slip and fall,” in your content. It is also smart to include variations of those words, such as “car,” “motorcycle,” “bike,” “bicycle,” “animal,” “crash” and “collision.”

If you have some particular types of cases that you focus on, you should make sure that you have words associated with that type of case as well. For example, if you handle mesothelioma cases, you should include words and phrases such as “asbestos,” “asbestosis,” “lung cancer,” “fibrosis” “insulation” and “fire retardant.”

Using the Terms Lawyer, Attorney, Attorneys, Lawyers, Law Firm and Law Firms

To ensure your Web pages appear when someone is searching specifically for an attorney, you should also use variations of the word lawyer through out your Web pages. It is important to note that statistically, the word “Lawyer” is searched for more than the word “Attorney,” while the word “Attorneys” is searched for more than the term “Lawyers,” although some of these searches are not necessarily for lawyers in private practice, but are for searches such as “attorney general” or “power of attorney forms.”

It’s recommended you use lawyer, attorney, lawyers AND attorneys somewhere within your Web pages and, if possible, include all of these terms within the content of your home page.

Additional Keyword Tips

  • People use a variety to describe the same thing. For example, one person might search for “white collar lawyer,” while another might search for “securities crime attorney.” It is best to write down your practice areas and the words associated with them, and then start coming up with alternative words and phrases. Ask staff, friends and existing clients to learn more.
  • Some queries from Internet users may include misspellings, acronyms and abbreviations. Are some of the keywords associated with your practice areas commonly misspelled (e.g. Fen-Fen v. Phen-Fen)? Is it likely or possible that people might use an acronym or abbreviation in searching for lawyers in your practice area (e.g., OSHA vs. Occupational Safety and Health Association, or “DUI” v. “driving under the influence” or “DWI” v. “driving while intoxicated”)? If so, you should consider including relevant acronyms, abbreviations and, possibly, some common misspellings, in your keyword list.
  • Think about word stems: are your keywords used in both singular and plural forms? If so, you might want to include both forms as keywords. Might people commonly use the stem of a word in their queries, rather than the word with the prefix or suffix commonly added to it? Include all forms of a word.
  • Many search engines filter out common words (e.g., a, the, but, not). Don’t use these words when selecting your keywords and phrases. Focus on specific, targeted words (use “Family Lawyer” and “Divorce Lawyer” for your terms, not “Family and Divorce Lawyer”). This is especially true for words used in the title tags (<title> title tag text </title>).
  • Think about the ways a user might put your keywords together in a phrase – are they more likely to do it one way over another? Try to order your keywords and phrases the way users would most commonly search for them.
  • Look at any printed materials you have relating to your law firm – are there any words or phrases that appear repeatedly? If so, it is probably a good idea to use them as keywords and phrases, or at least use them as a starting point in making your keyword list.
  • What words do clients use to describe their legal problems? Are the same terms used by different people? You might want to include these keywords as well.
  • If you have the option, consider either informal or formal usability testing. Ask a few people how they would find your Web site in a directory, and what words they might pick for a query if they used a search engine.
  • Test out your keyword phrases by submitting them as queries in a variety of search engines. Look at the results – are they relevant to your practice? Are the results what you would have expected? Some search engines, such as AltaVista and Teoma have features that give you variations of search queries or links to similar searches – look at these for help in identifying similar keywords and phrases. Also, consider testing out your keywords and phrases by doing searches in specific directories. The results may be different than those generated by a search engine spider or crawler.
  • Consider testing out your keywords and phrases with the Overture Suggestion Tool. Doing this can tell you how many people searched for those terms within a certain timeframe, and provide similar terms that might be worth using as your keywords. Running tests of a variety of words and phrases collected through your keyword research will help you find other variations of the same terms.
  • Google also has a tool called AdWords Keyword Suggestions, as part of its AdWords program. You can run sample searches of keywords, and obtain suggestions for terms to use on your Web site.
  • When you feel that you’ve collected as many relevant keywords and phrases as you can, put them together on a spreadsheet.
  • Take some time to review the different words and phrases, paying careful attention to any natural practice and sub-practice area groupings or categories. Re-arrange the words and phrases to fit under a hierarchy with more general or broad topics at the top. Using the results of the word-tracking programs mentioned above, look at the number of times these words and phrases have been searched.
  • Often a number of words or phrases that have the same meaning. Choose the words or phrases that are searched most often in relation to to the number of pages on the Web that contain those words or phrases.

Once you’ve done your research and pared down the keywords and phrases you’ve collected to a reasonable number, it’s time to place them effectively within the Web pages on your site.

Keyword placement is covered on my Site Layout page.

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